A custom to cook, consume cookies

4,000 pizzelle will be for sale at Italian fest this weekend

August 16, 2006|By ERIN MENDELL | ERIN MENDELL,SUN REPORTER

It takes six pairs of hands to make and pack the pizzelle for Little Italy's Feast of St. Gabriel.

Lucy Pompa, who's lived in the neighborhood since 1948, makes the batter - using 25 pounds of butter and 300 eggs - for about 4,000 wafer cookies for the festival, which will take place Saturday and Sunday.

"It's never enough. We always run out," she said.

The Feast of St. Gabriel honors the patron saint of the Abruzzo region in south-central Italy, where many of Little Italy's residents had come from when the festival began 78 years ago, said Jerry Elliott, co-chairman of the feast. It's the same area where pizzelle, which resemble thin, crisp, delicate waffles, were invented, according to Antonio Iannaccone, who owns Piedigrotta bakery in Baltimore.

Because they're so old, pizzelle and their cousins - the Norwegian krumkake, among others - have a murky history. But crisp wafer cookies have ancient roots and were popular throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, according to Lynne Olver, a reference librarian and food-history buff who runs the Food Timeline Web site.

"Wafers, I think, were pretty much the first cookie," said cookbook author and pastry chef Nick Malgieri, baking director at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. "All you need is a bowl of batter, the fire and the waffle iron."

Pizzelle often have a flower design, though pizzelle irons can leave a variety of impressions. In southern Italy, pizzelle irons are traditional wedding gifts from village blacksmiths, according to a Chicago Tribune article on the cookies.

But Iannaccone said the irons might not be so popular now: "Today's a little bit more fancy."

Pizzelle can be made using almost any flavoring. When making them at home, Pompa uses anise oil, but for festivals, she makes only vanilla because they're more popular. Iannaccone, who is from an area near Naples, said that when immigrants brought pizzelle to the United States they often used anisette to make them because it was the only liqueur available.

About a week before the Baltimore festival, Pompa spends about three hours making the batter, five batches at a time.

When adding the sugar to the eggs a little at a time, she said, mix until you can't feel any sugar granules.

The melted butter should be cooled before it's added along with the vanilla. Otherwise, it will cook the eggs, Pompa said.

When the batter is finished, it's time to pull out Fran Votta's pizzelle iron, which she takes to St. Leo's School to help cook Pompa's batter. Votta's iron is more than 50 years old, but she says it cooks faster than models a fraction of its age. The iron looks like and works like a waffle iron, cooking two pizzelle at a time.

After using a teaspoon to place batter on the iron, Votta keeps the iron closed for less than a minute, loosens the cookies from the iron with a knife and then lifts them off with her fingers.

Three women besides Pompa and Votta are helping with the cooking this year, and other St. Leo's members will make batter and take it to the festival to be baked there. Some of Pompa's batter also will be saved for the festival to fill the air with the scent of the cookies and so people can buy them freshly made.

"It's a little bit of work, but they are good," Pompa said.

Once they're cool, Anna Gentile goes from table to table packing the cookies, which will sell for 25 cents each, into cans by the handful.

Pompa said people like to walk around the festival drinking wine and eating pizzelle. But before it's time for dessert, festivalgoers can try other Italian favorites. Elliott said offerings include seafood, Sicilian rice balls, sausage, penne, cheese ravioli and meatball subs.

erin.mendell@baltsun.com

Pizzelle

Makes 24

Note: You'll need an electric pizzelle iron, available at housewares stores.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

pinch salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons anisette

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

vegetable oil for greasing the iron

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder; stir well to mix.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk, just enough to mix them together. Whisk in the sugar in a stream, then the anisette and melted butter. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture.

Set the batter aside while you heat the pizzelle iron. After the iron has been heating for a few minutes, open the cover and grease the top and bottom of the imprints with an oiled paper towel. Close the iron and finish heating.

Drop a rounded teaspoon of the batter in the center of each imprint, close the cover and bake the pizzelle. They are usually ready when the steam stops coming out from between the plates of the iron. (You can peek without ruining them - if they are too pale, close the iron and bake longer.)

Use the point of a paring knife to lift one of the pizzelle out of the iron, then with a wide spatula, transfer it to a rack to cool. You may also cut it into quarters or roll it into a cone or cylinder shape over a form. Repeat with the other pizzelle in the iron. There is no need to grease the iron again, unless the pizzelle start to stick. Use the remaining batter to make more pizzelle.

Store the wafers between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

From "Cookies Unlimited," by Nick Malgieri.Per serving: 99 calories, 2 grams protein, 4 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 13 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 36 milligrams cholesterol, 43 milligrams sodium

The Festival of St. Gabriel

The Festival of St. Gabriel takes place from noon-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Pratt and Exeter streets in the heart of Little Italy. $1. Call 410-675-7275 or visit littleitalymd.com.

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